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  • Writer's pictureAl Desetta

Hire a Writer, Not a Company (a memoir is an act of discovery, not a formula)

In making the decision to hire a memoir ghostwriter, some people consider hiring a ghostwriting company. It might, on paper, seem like a wise choice—a whole team of people working on your memoir instead of a lone writer.


Buyer beware. Someone recently told me he was considering a ghostwriting company. I did a little research on the firm. They set a limit of 10 interviews, 90 minutes each, in their first two packages. (Their most expensive package offers 12 interviews.) They conduct one interview a week, which means it takes them 10 to 12 weeks to complete them. 


Already I was getting nervous. I further learned that the interviews are conducted by different staff members. More nervousness. Then I found out that while the company allows their clients to review and revise the content and style of the interviews, they do not offer clients the opportunity to review and edit the final manuscript unless they pay extra on top of the original fee (which is not inexpensive).


In other words, after the client initially approves the 10 or 12 interviews, the company slaps them together and calls it a book without further editing or feedback from the client. This is formulaic in the extreme, “written-by-committee.” 


Now I was beyond nervous and told the person who was considering them. Luckily, he didn’t hire a company to do his memoir.


In contrast, I don't set any limit on interviews. I interview as many times as needed to get the job done. I interviewed Dr. Cecily Wang 33 times for her memoir about her international work with Doctors Without Borders. For many memoirs I interview multiple family members in addition to the prime subject.


Also, I conduct multiple interviews during the first month of the project, not stretching it out for two and a half months. Finally, I do additional interviews later in the process to tie the whole book together. You can't do 10 or 12 interviews and call it a book. The manuscript has to be edited and shaped as a whole, no matter how many interviews that takes. 

 

A memoir is about some kind of challenge that someone has faced and overcome. Not necessarily a traumatic challenge, but some kind of obstacle that has demanded insight, strength, change, and resilience from the person facing it. A good memoir has psychological and emotional depth. It’s an act of discovery during which the ghostwriter helps the client unearth, understand, and reframe aspects of his or her life in new and cathartic ways. 


I could not have helped Wanda Broach-Butts write a memoir about her husband’s murder, and her subsequent journey through that loss, by putting artificial limits on our collaboration. Such a journey can only be understood through multiple interviews by a skilled ghostwriter who knows the genre intimately and the hard work involved in recreating someone’s life on paper. If you want to write a quality memoir, hire a writer, not a company.



 

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